Stay A Little Bit Longer

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its  perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  See how  the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient.  Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.  Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!  My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.  Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by  the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
-James 1:2-4, 5:7-11 (NKJV)

My message is:  Stay a little bit longer, and let patience have its perfect work.  Stay in the place of your suffering.

Don't stay in abuse, flee abuse, set boundaries on abuse.  Stay in that trial you are in, where your patience has worn thin and God has not opened the door to the next thing for you, yet.

Let patience work.  Have you ever heard the phrase, 'don't waste your trials'?  That is what this is.

Before the Lord promotes you, he wants to transform you.  We have been asking to be transposed.  We have been imagining and planning on a better place for ourselves.

But before God does that, he does this.  He puts you through trials to refine you and synergize you with  Christ.  God has you in the place of transformation.  Stay in it a bit longer and let patience have its perfect work in you.

I know that many people want more out of life.  We want success and to have lives with impact.  We want to enjoy doing what we have been given to do and get recognition for it.

Some of us are content and very thankful for the blessings that we are living in.  But we also have something we are frustrated about and it seems like it will never get better.  We have little hope or almost none and even no hope left.

Some of us have given up on our dreams.  This is like the heartbroken father of the boy who was afflicted by a demon, who said to Jesus, "I believe, but help my unbelief" (Mark 9:14-29).  Our hopes have been deferred for so long, that our hearts are just sick (Prov. 13:12).

We are in a window of time.  We are always in a window of time.  But what if God asked you, at this time, to stay a little longer and let patience have its perfect work?

The alternatives are opting out or resisting.  Opting out is when you leave before the work is done, in you.  You might say, "I don't have time for this", or some other excuse, but you disengage from the suffering and your persevering faith trial.  "I haven't got time for the pain", or "I'm out of here"; you say.

Resisting is when you don't hit the eject button, but you don't let patience work in your life either.  Resisting is when you push back, deny, blame, complain and present yourself as a victim.  You feel sorry for yourself and others do too, but in the game you are playing, you avoid the growth of letting patience have its perfect work in you.  Nothing has changed inside you.

Letting patience have its perfect work in you is when you seek or cultivate union with God.  Your prayer of, "O God help me", becomes a cry for intimacy, communion and fellowship with God.

God is drawing near to you, beckoning you to share your life, especially the pain, suffering and disappointment.  We might have in mind that when God comes it means I get my prayers answered, I get the stuff I have been asking for and I get rescued or delivered, healed or made whole.  But what God wants is to be with you in your trial.  God wants more to transform you than to make it go away.

God is saying today, to some people, including myself: "Stay a little bit longer and let patience have its perfect work in you".  How much longer?  I don't know.

There are times and seasons, general for everybody and particular to individuals and groups of individuals who make an 'in the same boat' group.  A bunch of people need to stay and not opt out, resist or leave their place of trial right now, because God is wanting to finish a work in you, called by James, 'letting patience have its perfect work'.

Gathering Without The Sermon

So here’s what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three’s the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you’re saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you’re also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn’t stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.
-1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (MSG)

Here are two scenes of identical gatherings, with one difference, that I want to share and see what you think. 

A group of people are gathered.  It could be a birthday party, a graduation celebration or a wake.  In the first version, a person, stands up to speak; and they speak for a long time: twenty minutes to an hour, without interruption.  In the second version, that same person speaks for one, two, three, four, five or six minutes, if they're long winded.  Then someone else speaks for a minute or two, maybe a little more, if they are inarticulate or have a lot to say, like a long story with details.

Imagine yourself at the first version of the gathering.  Would it not be strange if someone spoke, without interruption and any conversational back and forth, for ten, twenty or even sixty minutes?  It would be surreal if someone went on and on and on, like, "is this a bad dream?"

Imagine a person speaking solo at a gathering to say a prayer, speak a blessing or congratulate someone.  I have done this, as best man, at my friend's wedding party.  What if that person went on and on, ten minutes or longer?

Would not that be strange and uncomfortable or 'socially unacceptable'?  The answer of course is, "Yes!"

But that is what many of us expect when we 'go to church'.  Someone from another culture, that is more communal, like African, might ask, "Why does that one speak so long without others talking?"

And we would answer, "Because that is how we do it."

We carve out an hour or three in our schedules to go to a meeting that is not really a meeting, because there is not much meeting happening.  We call it a service, but what is the serving?  I take it that we maybe serve God by singing songs?  Or by giving money to keep things going?

In the New Testament, church 'services' or gatherings are very different than what we normally do.  And I am speaking as someone in the Evangelical, North American context.

Two of the things that we hold dear: 'the sermon' and 'the pastor' are not mentioned much in the NT.

There are only a handful of examples, if that, of sermons or preaching sermons inside a church gathering, in the New Testament.  And yet, we keep doing it and feel we must do it.  Somehow, having a sermon or a pastor speak or a clergy person give a talk, at some point became what defined a Christian gathering.

But Christ and his body, plural, is what describes and defines the church or the Christians gathering, in the New Testament.

I have never read the passage in the NT that says to have a sermon, when you gather.  I have never seen the verses that support having one person give a speech, address or sermon; when we gather.

I can find more support for writing articles and books.  I can see a lot of support for short teachings, followed by questions and discussion.  I see a lot of support for 'show and tell' or doing something and then teaching about what you did.

I see conversations where one person says something and another person challenges what they said and the first person responds, while others join in.

Here is how it should be done: "When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight."

Each person should come to the gathering with something to share, like a pot luck.  That is community.

Church is not like going to a show or a restaurant, or even to a class.  And the ones who come empty handed are like the prodigal in Jesus parable, who has a heart open to Father.  Everyone else comes with something to share, something that God has given to them or that God has done in their lives.

Are You Going To Carry That Weight?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
-Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

Are you burned out on religion?  That is the exquisite way that Eugene Peterson translated Matthew 11:28.  Religion means working, getting tired from working and telling others to get to work.  Jesus view and style is that what we do comes out of and through rest.  Resting is not about unplugging from work, but plugging into the one who loves you.

We are 'saved unto good works', but we don't work to be saved.  The work we do was God's idea and it flows out of our relationship, in Christ:

"Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."
-Ephesians 2:8-10 (MSG)

There is an old song called , "He is our peace".  Besides the title, I always remember the key line, "Cast all your cares on Him, for he cares for you."  That comes from 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter quotes or echoes Psalm 55:22, that says, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." (HCSB)

It is also notable that believers do stumble and fall, but God has our hand and helps us get back up.  The falling is like tripping, misstepping or losing or way or our ballance.  Some translations say, "Though he may stumble, he will not fall", while others have, "Though he fall, he is not overwhelmed" (Ps. 37:24, NIV, HCSB).

We all have dreams, from God and challenges, God allows.  We want to and rightly so need to take responsibility for how we unpack and navigate these, as stewards.  But we don't carry the whole weight of it.

With the vision and with the obstacles, comes gifts of grace, gifts from God.  It is not just about seeing and then doing the vision or encountering and overcoming the obstacles.  It is about unpacking the treasure that God endowed you with to participate in and be a developer of that vision.  And as each obstacle comes into play, you will discover gifts or grace from God to counter the obstacles. 

We partner with God because we are a covenant people.  We are not people who are under a contract, where each side is bound to do this or that.  In our covenant with God, we give ourselves to God and God gives himself to us.

More from Ephesians 2, from The Message:

"But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything." (Eph. 2:11-13)

Inside the covenant, there is no selfishness.  Each party gives for the mutual benefit.  We are new covenant people.

God has made a covenant to save us through Christ.  And we get to give ourselves to God and live in the covenant, in Christ.  God does all the heavy lifting and we get to participate as junior partners or king's kids.

The new covenant (Matt. 26:26-9, Mark 14:23-4, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:23-6, Heb 7:20-2, 8:6-13, 9:11-17, 12:22-13-21) supersedes the old one and Christians are now a part of Zion, which has always been believers out of all the nations (Psalm 87).

When we stress or worry, struggle and strive; we might be carrying the weight that is God's to carry.  We live in the paradox of receiving promises and permission from God, in love; but we don't have the power or the wherewithal to make it happen.

Please forgive me, for cherry picking verses (versitous), but here are some verses:

  • His yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matt. 11:30).
  • His grace is sufficient for you: strength is made perfect in weakness (1 Cor. 12:9).
  • God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
  • I will be with you (Judges 6:16).

Are you going to carry that weight?  Time to get low and get the yoke of Christ on.  Time to cast your cares on Him.

God does give us responsibility.  We are stewards of what he gives us.  And we need to be good at stewardship, because that is faith and faithfulness, which God wants from us and it is only natural to be faithful to the person who is faithful to us and to whom we put our faith in.

This question of, "Are you going to carry that weight", cuts two ways.  We need to not strive or worry and take on what is not ours to carry.  And we need to take responsibility to pick up and carry what is ours.

We also must bear the responsibility for our own development.  Jesus is still asking crippled people if they would like to be made well.  He is still handing out talents and watching to see what we do with them.

So, as I consider the weight, I think about his yoke that is easy and his burden that is light and the resting in him from which my life is supposed to flow, by his design.  And I also think about the responsibility of stewarding what he gives me.

The weight I want to carry is the weight of the yoke of Christ, that is easy, compared to other yokes, and light.  I want to live from rest.  I want to rest in Christ and let him live through me.

My Grace Is Sufficient For You

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
-2 Cor. 12:9

I was asking for the pain to go away.  I wanted the agony I was feeling to be removed.  Instead, this verse was ministered to me.

What this verse said to me was the opposite answer to my request to have the pain go away.  God was saying that he had grace for me, in the midst of the pain I was experiencing.  He also says in this verse that power, his power in my life, is perfected in my weakness.

In my pain, God did not go along with my line of thinking which was 'make the pain go away' (please).  Instead, God introduced a whole different thought to my situation.  His answer to my request for pain relief was, "My grace is more than enough and my power flows in you when you are weak".

Since this word was not what I had in mind or expected, I had to begin to assimilate it.  I felt a bit baffled and reasoned that the Lord was saying that he wanted to give me grace in my pain.  My next thought was, "Okay", and then, "I wonder how this works".

The place where this revelation happened for me was at my school, where three years previous, I had picked up their brochure and on it was this curious quote, by Augustine, that read:
In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.
Sure enough, what they advertised; that I really did not get at first, ended up being my experience.  I was caught by surprise, like a deer in the headlights and a bit blinded to my preconceived ideas of how God should work.  That is how I was dazzled.

I was also baffled.  "My grace is sufficient", what does that mean?

Grace is unmerited favor or God's empowering presence.  Grace is good, so there must be something good it this.

Sufficient is not a word that I use.  It means 'enough', 'all you need', 'adequate', 'plenty' or 'more than enough'.  The implication is that God is saying, "Rather than escaping this, my grace is more than enough and all that you need".

God says, "My grace is always more than enough, all that you need".

I know that I am always in need of grace and am in trouble if I do not rely upon grace.  But today, I am in a third acute time in life when I particularly need this verse ministered to me.  This verse is the answer to my prayer to God today, that says, "This is impossible!"

Today it seems impossible to have or find a church or a group of people who are also envisioned with the desire for church that I have.  I did not say it is impossible, but that it seems or feels impossible.

This is more like a horse that won't drink the water.  For me, this is also like how when I first went back to college, to begin pursuing graduate studies in counseling, I was about twenty-six years old and I was beginning to long for and dream about my future wife.  "Could she be walking here on this campus right now?", I thought.  And the answer was actually, yes she was.  But we were not to meet for about fourteen years.

The point of that story is that sometimes the answer or the fulfillment of your dream is right there, close by.  But you or they are not ready.  And God, walking with both of you, is getting you ready for your future.

The lesson is that we are all in the process of getting ready, being developed, for our future roles, assignments and affiliation communities.  All people in churches are not people who have 'always known each other', buy God brings different people together.  Even though the former is active today, God is also doing the latter.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness"
The first time that I heard this verse in my life, and it was not a direct quote, but it was definitely the lesson that God was teaching me, was earlier in my young adult life, when I was in trouble, stuck, trapped and exposed.  I audaciously asked God to rescue me and I even tried to make a deal, saying I would be good if he would rescue me.  And the answer was, "No, but you will serve me".

The exact quote was something like, "I am not going to rescue you and you are going to serve me."  The voice of God that I heard was the Lord, my Lord, who was speaking to me sternly.  I had been through a journey in my Christian life where I had made Jesus my savior, but not my Lord.  That journey shifted that night, and he began to bring me into the revelation that Jesus is Lord and King.

That night was like lightning came into my darkness, but then I spent the next year assimilating the change in my life, leaving my home, going for long walks and just being with God.

The second time that I learned the lesson that God's grace is sufficient, was when I was witnessing my parents going through divorce.  Everything was going good in my life except for this painful thing.  I learned that the grace to walk through the pain, is transmitted by Jesus.  

Today, the way forward again seems impossible.  People say, "That's impossible!", but Jesus says, "There are some things people can not do, but God can do anything."  

My thing that seems impossible, is my vision for the church.  

My vision for church gatherings can be distilled down to: A Jesus Christ centered family reunion where everyone plays a part or has a voice. 

And sometimes it seems like pretty much everyone in my life, laughs and says, "Ain't gonna happen", or "That does not exist".  I also hear, "That's not church", and "We've never done it that way before".

To take Jesus style and substance of church life and bring it into our culture is a challenge and passion of mine that I dream about and think about and talk about.  And I believe that a lot of people who have stopped attending church services, for a variety of reasons are also looking for this.

But many of these people are hurt, disillusioned, burned out and feel betrayed and disoriented.  And these 'negatives' become their language and they begin living from negativity in regards to Christianity.  They turn off their old friends of family who still attend church services and do not share their fed-up experience.

And when these exiles meet up with other exiles, they are vulnerable to gathering around negativity rather than the positive message and person of Jesus Christ.  A bunch of people who have felt rejected and run off, but have not processed this through Jesus' grace are like porcupines that you don't want to hug or get behind.

Ouch, I just got barbed again.

If the conversation is just about the negative, then either people will be turned off with you and not want to talk, or you will attract other negative people and end up having a gripe festival as your gathering.  And it is human nature to not see your own stuff, so you will eventually not want to be around such negative people, not realizing you are one of them.

How can we gather with the de-churched, un-churched and done with (the old way of) church people?  The answer I believe is to make Jesus Christ the center of our gathering.  Through recognition and cultivation we will gather around him, and not our hurts and 'tales of woe and intrigue'.

We don't deny our pain or erase our history.  But we put Jesus first, who says that all things are possible and to stop looking at how we can not do it and to look to God who can do all things.

Even if it looks impossible and if people say it can't be done or that will never work, I believe that we can find out, figure out, and have faith to come into an experience of church life that is in Jesus style, that is patterned out of his life and what he taught and how he functioned.  Even though the church carries his name, I believe that his essence and form, heart and life has become lost, like a lost art.

But it can be found, because he is alive and he is still building his church.  He lets us build his church our way and he inhabits it to a degree.  But that does not mean he built it or he endorses it; but that he is gracious and loves people who love him, even when they are more religious and less authentic than what is his plan.

Jesus was continually correcting his first disciples, while loving and caring for them.  And our being corrected or disciplined is part of being loved and belonging.  And another point is that God has a very wide latitude with his people and with his servants who are visible.  We criticize where God sees people who he loves who love him.

Doing church in a new way:

  • Centered on Jesus Christ through recognition and cultivation. 
  • That is like a family reunion. 
  • Where everyone participates or plays a role.
Seems impossible; but by God's grace is possible, if we will be weak and let his power flow.  The Passion Translation puts it this way: "My power finds its full expression through your weakness", and the CEV says, "My power is strongest when you are weak".

I think what this is saying is that instead of seeking to be stronger, in our own strength; that we need to embrace our weakness.  You think this is impossible?  Let yourself be weak, so that God's strength can bloom out.

For myself, what I need to do is move forward and live, engaging life and the people in my life and even new people outside the present borders or boundary lines of my life, and share my self with them, in weakness.

Community comes from communion which means sharing.  The 'one anothers' draw a picture of church life centered around Jesus personhood.  Much of what we call 'church' is not the communion of the saints, described in the NT.

There is a way and I believe it is the God prescribed way, to not give up on your dreams or who you are and what you want to be all about and to embrace weakness.  That means gentleness, kindness, humility and love.  This is Jesus style.

Imagine if the thorn that Paul calls 'the messenger of Satan', for you or me, are a person who harasses you in some way that is so bad that they are diabolical and psychopathic.  It would be natural to ask God for help, to deliver you from or remove that person out of your life.  But God says 'no', and that his grace (for that) is all you need and his power finds its full expression in your weakness.

In other words, the challenge, whatever it or who it is, will not be removed.  Instead, the direction for you is to rely on God's grace and embrace your weakness.  That is God's direction to me, as best I understand it.

There have been two ways that I have applied or practiced this in recent times.  One, is to be silent before God for times, holding out my impossible situation; doing the opposite of complaining to people or to God in prayer, and letting grace work.  The second is to engage the impossible situation, person or idea in weakness and let grace work.  

I learned the former a few years ago.  And it really works.  I am now going to learn that latter.

In the past, I would argue, debate, harangue or try to cajole.  But today I am learning to be a weak one, relying on his grace to fill out, fill in and create life where things seem impossible.

This song is a prayer:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong

Finding The One

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul,  and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
-Acts 11:25-6 (NIV)

Back when I was single, I was concerned about finding 'the one' that I would marry.  I have also been concerned about finding 'the one' job and 'the one' place to live.  Right now, I have been researching cars, looking for 'the one' car.

I remember when I bought a cassette tape, almost 30 years ago, about finding a spouse.  The Bible has a lot of practical advice, but not really the idea of finding 'the one'.  In a sense, who you select becomes 'the one' and the two of you become one.

The Bible does not point us to personality tests or compatibility questionnaires.  It basically says, "walk with the Lord", and "marry a believer".

What about the other 'the one's' in our lives: the one job, the one house and the one car to choose?

Are we guided by God and is there a plan?  Yes.  But there is a dance, where we make mistakes and encounter opposition and God re-guides us.

Apostle Paul is an example of a man that God had a plan for.  And that man did good and did bad.  Sometimes God guided and he did not follow.  Many times, he was opposed and kept walking with God and rediscovering the plan.

He walked with God through disappointment, broken hearted failure and just being wrung out.  But he became for us perhaps the number one theologian about Jesus and God's plan of salvation.  His life's message might boil down to 'a man in Christ'.  That's a pretty good epitaph.

What about the the one, perfect job?  Did you know that a high percentage of people hate their jobs?  Even many pastors say that they would do something else if they could, but they don't see anything else they could do.

The scripture from Acts 11 is about Barnabas finding Paul and taking him to Antioch.  Paul was 'the one' who was going to be a prolific Apostle and was going to write a bunch of letters that would be inspired by God and make it into the canon of scripture.

Of course Paul was an amazing person and his life had massive impact.  But behind Paul and beside Paul, was this special man named Barnabas.  That was actually his nickname.  His real name is the very good name, Joseph.

Barnabas was such an encouraging person that he got the nickname 'son of encouragement' which is what Barnabas means.  He was Paul's friend, mentor, liaison, voucher and reference.

Paul had about three years of a rocky, wild ride in his ministry, before being 'benched' by going back to Tarsus for nine years.  At the end of those nine years, Barnabas went to recall Paul and bring him to Antioch.  After about a year, Paul went on his first ministry trip, with Barnabas.

Barnabas was a gifted disciple, but he never exhibited a 'me first' or 'I am the one' attitude.  He was simply at the service of Jesus and allowed himself to be empowered and assigned ministry jobs including teacher, prophet and apostle.  He neither bossed Paul nor introduced him as 'the new boss'.

 Paul made mistakes and was in sharp conflict with a couple of his apostolic associates later.  That did not disqualify Paul or make him 'not the one' to write New Testament letters.

Most of us have to choose a car, a job and a location to live.  A majority of people choose a spouse.  I know many people who have been married twice and a few who are like C.S. Lewis and past mid-life and are still unmarried.  

You can be fat and happy or unmarried and content.  You can be thin and unhappy or married and  discontented.  A word for the younger people: money, success, power or popularity do not make you happy.  Believe it or not, having a lot of any one of these actually makes you less happy.

Only God can give you happiness.  Remember the word, "Blessed are the poor"?  That does not mean you must have no money to be happy in God.  It does mean that money does not bring happiness.

You actually are positioned better to enter the kingdom if you are not wealthy.  Money is not the root of all evil.  The love of money is the root of all evil.

When I was graduating high school and had to choose a car, I did not know much.  Maybe I got lucky or maybe I got blessed and maybe my dad, knew something, and guided me.  I selected a Toyota.

It was outrageously reliable compared to all the cars I had seen in my family.  I had that car for about ten years.  I sold it with a quarter of a million miles on it for five hundred dollars.

Then, I tried to find the car that would be 'the one'.  I thought I was wise in not choosing a German sports car, but ended up choosing a more sporty Japanese car.  I ended up having two of these, back to back, that both needed new engines ($$$) after only 50k to 75k miles of ownership.

After those, I actually considered a third try, but then opted for something more reliable, while still being somewhat sporty.  And that anonymous car is now over 200k and that is why I am looking for 'the one' again.

My two sports cars were so much fun to drive and I miss that, but I don't miss the cost.  Life is a balance of enjoyable thrills within your budget.  I have an advice book where the author says you should own a convertible at least once in your life and I can think of three older men I look up to who have owned and ridden Harley Davidsons motorcycles.  Did you ever see the picture on the Chuck Swindoll book, where he is on a motorcycle, with his wife?

I did find the one person to marry and to have a family with.  And I am confident about the car thing.  I know that if I am careful, I can own a car for a year and then resell it with no trouble.  The job, career, calling, ministry, vocation thing is more complicated.

In a sense, I am doing my dream job.  When I was a kid, I had my own audio equipment: tape decks, microphones, radio transmitters and receivers.

And I also had a movie camera and learned to shoot and edit film.  I made a music film to a Toto song in high school and another film to a Tears For Fears song in college.  I also made a short film about the end of the world.

From the end of high school through all my college years, I had many opportunities that knocked to work in making commercials, television or film.  But I had no vocational mentor or coach.  I just had a couple of conservative, electrical engineering career path guys, who supported me in whatever I was going to choose.

And what or who I chose is what or who chose me and that is God.  Out of my life that was in chaos, confusion, fear and a longing for meaning mixed with broken hearted unhappiness came a hunger for God.

In my strategic time of the end of high school through the end of college, with all the dreaming and deciding on what to do, as I made the transition into adulthood; God intervened in my life and drew me to himself.

There are many other details I can't go into now, on how I came to live where I live and work where I work and about the church I joined for about 14 years, and what I learned and inherited and what was developed in me that I posses today.

And after getting settled into my life with God and having a place to call home and a job, I did want to find the one to marry and a better job or a job that was a ministry job where I could do something more kingdom oriented.

I actually tried out two other careers or jobs and did them at the semi-pro level.  That happened before I got married.  I could not push the river.  I did not find her and even though the chorus said, "just pick one", I felt like I had not found the person that I had been looking for and that God was going to send me.

God actually gave me a word, a prophecy; a promise verse that was about Janine.  That verse kind of says that all women are not equal in how they live or choose to live their lives and God will give that woman to the man who receives her from him.  I also had an additional prophecy, promise or word about my future that I wrote about, called 'two-ten in the afternoon'.

The clue or lesson I have learned in my search for 'the one' is my life is God.  The search for 'the one' comes out of and goes through and back to how God is 'the one'.  God, worshipping God and serving God is 'the one thing'.  God has always and will always be the one for me.  

I have discovered that God has a destiny, calling and inheritance for me that is developing and coming.  I chose that scripture about Paul and Barnabas because God calls and recalls and uses encouraging people in his calling and recalling.

What was Paul thinking and feeling when he went back to Tarsus for those nine years?

I think that whatever happened to Paul in those nine years was very important and had to do with his internal spiritual formation.  I believe he shared his faith and evangelized.  I don't know if he taught people or had disciples.

Being a Barnabas and finding the Paul's is an awesome ministry and so important.

The last thing I will say is that all of life is an in-between time and we are often in transition.  You can ruin the time you are in now by sentimentally looking back or discontentedly looking forward.  Remember that, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it".

Not recognizing transition is when 'good' becomes the enemy of 'best'.  The old order gets in the way of the new order.  It is the wineskin that Jesus talked about.  God has new things, new assignments, opportunities, relationships and responsibilities to give us that require new structure.  The new structure has God's design for that new assignment, in you and for you to serve him.

God has our best for us and we have to let go of the good, to receive it.  Paul had those three rocky years and then went to the sidelines for nine and then was called back up.  God never forgot him and Barnabas got to be God's representative to get Paul back into what was going to happen.

Imagine the ridiculousness of if Paul never left Tarsus and just stayed there.  He instead was open to change and reforming his call.  That is a good example to follow.

Are we guided by God and God has a plan.  But there is a dance, where we make mistakes and encounter opposition.  Then God re-guides us, renews us and recalls us.  We will have opposition, but we keep walking with God and rediscovering the plan.

The path to the one is in and through The One.  That is the overarching, chief plan of radical union with Christ.

Asking God For Help

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
-James 1:4-6 (NIV)

I want to talk about asking God for help.  We continually have challenges in life that stretch us beyond what we know to do.  And we must learn to ask God for help.

When we ask God for help, it is not like asking someone to lend us a hand.  Asking God for help is availing ourselves to God's goodness, grace and love.  Asking God requires my listening and following God.

Asking God means that when God answers, I must follow.  God makes a way for me, with him.  This is very different than my asking God to help me do things my way.

God is always expanding my awareness and experience in him as I walk along in life.  And this is what asking for wisdom from God is all about.  I am asking God how to do something I can not do.

Life serves up a challenge and I am not doing well with it.  I might say, honestly, "I can't do this".  The next step is to ask God for help, saying, "How can I do this?"

James brings up this issue, because his whole letter is a catalog of wisdom from God, that James wants to share with his audience.  The original people who James was ministering to had real problems.

The message from James is: "Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems".  The message, "Come to Jesus and you will no longer have problems", runs counter to the book of James.

Here, in chapter 1, is the first of four times that James is going to mention wisdom in his letter.  About the theme of wisdom, Brian Simmons writes: "His letter could be considered a wisdom sermon, for the style is similar to the Proverbs.  Throughout his letter James taps into the long tradition of Jewish wisdom and applies it to various practical topics for wise Christian living.  He recognizes wisdom as necessary for trying circumstances; it involves insight into God's purposes and leads to spiritual maturity; and God is the source of all true wisdom."(1)

A good way to understand the whole message of James is to read the whole thing in one sitting.  If you had just done that and then circled back to chapter one, you would have probably noticed that James contrasts God's heavenly wisdom with earthly wisdom that can be demonic.

Some Christians are afraid of the idea that there is a demon behind every bush.  But the demonic and the dark powers are a reality and they influence how the world functions.  And people who are not walking with God come under the influence of the demonic.

The Christian who is not growing in godly wisdom through a living relationship with God is vulnerable to all the demonic traffic of ideas that is going through the air and it is only natural that they may adopt these ideas and pet them and feed them and believe in them.  They are not from God but are opposed to God.

Before we ask for wisdom and before we realize we are having trouble and need help, we need to understand that our faith is being stretched and grown through persevering under trials.  James says that we are all in a maturing process.  Over the years, I have met young and old believers, who resisted the idea of the long process of maturity.

I will never forget a man, who I was in a class with.  The instructor was sharing a model on the whiteboard of how people grow and mature.  This man shared with the class, with stars in his eyes, how God had taken him through all of these steps in just one night.

This brother was the oldest person in the room and a full time minister, who planned on getting a Doctorate, after finishing his Masters degree in Christian counseling.  And he was arguably the rudest, most selfish student in our class, based upon how he treated others.  Later in the program, several students openly confronted him, during a group sharing session.

I share that story, because many people want overnight change and do not want a long growth process.  But perseverance and learning godly wisdom usually comes from a lifetime lived, walking with God and asking God for help.

God does touch us and heal us.  We can have a life changing experience with God.  But maturity, mature faith and a godliness that has God's character usually takes time.  We can most definitely be touched by God, but not have very good fruit in our lives, because the cultivation of that fruit occurs in a process over time.

Perseverance means that we have persevered.  We have walked through the severe circumstances:  Circumstances that tried us and tested our faith.  Our faith has been refined. 

Part of perseverance is to ask God for help.  And asking God for help takes humility.  I already mentioned that when we ask God for help, we have to be willing to follow God.  If you are asking God to "give you a hand", it is not going to work.

That person might say, "I have asked God for help over and over and he just seems to ignore me!"

Are you asking God to lend you a hand, or are you humbling yourself and availing yourself to God changing your life, through the help he gives you?

We need wisdom,  We need God's wisdom to be godly people.  We have to be in the habit of asking God for help, which involves constantly humbling ourselves, saying, "I don't know", and even, "I have no idea".  Then we ask for wisdom, for advice, for God's perspective.

If you get in fights with people, if you are hurt or offended by people or you are mad that you are not getting your way; be prepared and don't be shocked when God says, "You are wrong".

If you are in the maturing process and you are going through your first world problems and you decide to start asking God for help and you discover that asking for help is not asking God for a hand, but coming under God as God and asking God to be God in your life and give you help as God: you are probably going to hear or sense, "You are wrong".

God who loves you, will tell you that you are wrong, just like how Jesus told his disciples they were wrong.  "You are wrong", does not mean you are bad or unloved, but means you don't get it.

A person who never acknowledges they are wrong is a small person and may become a psychopath.  That is not a person to follow or that you want to be.

Living a life of not asking for help and authentic help requests say, "what am I doing wrong?", is a life of pride.  Asking for help, as in asking what I can do differently or what should I do, takes some humility.  God opposes pride and give grace to humility.

The issue of asking for wisdom without doubting is about perseverance.  That means that you burn the ships after you reach the island or burn the bridges, so that you can not go back to where God led you out of.

You can't say, "It did not work, so we are going back".  That is not faith or perseverance.

Abraham is the man of faith, in scripture.  He had a promise that took a very long time to be fulfilled.

Sarah did not have the encounters with God that her husband had, as far as the record of scripture tells us.

But they both had to wait.  And they made a mistake, to try to 'help the promise come about', that was not God's wisdom.  But God still entered into their situation and redeemed it.

Maybe you are like Abraham and you are worried that you either ruined your chances or that somehow God has forgotten you.  Maybe like Abe, you have a wife or a husband that did not receive the promise like you did, but they nevertheless must live out your life in God, as a couple in covenant.

I am encouraged that despite Abraham and Sarah's fumble, that intimately affected two other people, God still kept giving them wisdom, guidance and grace.  The point is that despite the flaws that were huge, the scripture says that their faith did not waver (Rom. 4:20-21).  Yes, I see them as one, a couple.

This is message on persevering in faith and asking for wisdom unwaveringly.  If you think that your faith is not pure enough, strong enough or laser beam straight enough; think again.  Decide to believe and keep deciding, keep believing in the one who is faithful.

Keep your confidence in God.  Make it a habit to not worry.  Do not worry about things God does not worry about.  Instead, ask for wisdom.

Generous grace is available every day to those who turn their humble hearts towards God.  Generous grace is available every day to those who humble themselves to ask God for wisdom.  There is always grace for today, but we have to avail ourselves to God's open hand by humbling ourselves and asking for it.

Being ambivalent towards God or keeping your options open as you look around will destabilize your faith and your life.  There is only faith or unbelief and no neutral.  If you are undecided about God, that is called unbelief and you will not get or grow in wisdom or grace.

The place where James takes you is to become, like he was, a servant of God, in the service of others.  That is why we need to do all these wise things that James advises in his sermon letter.  You will know God, serve God and serve others, finding meaning and purpose.

Our destinies are called out and developed in the seeming darkness of troubles and problems in our lives.  Every single person has equal standing to be redeemed by God and employed in God's service.

Ask God for help and find wisdom.  Make that your lifestyle.

1. Brian Simmons, Hebrews and James: Faith Works, The Passion Translation; pp. 67-8

After Easter Reflections

After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
-Acts 1:3

Today is the day after Easter, the first day of forty days until the day Jesus ascended.  Ancient church traditions call today 'Bright Monday', which is the beginning of 'Bright Week'.

After Jesus rose from the dead, he started appearing to various people.  He surprised them, taught them, reassured them, admonished them and commissioned them.  Christ appeared to and continued to shift and shape the lives of his followers.

The message of Easter is: resurrection life now, not someday.

This is the message embodied in all of Jesus post resurrection stories.  In other words, he is not a dead philosopher or religious leader, who left followers behind, who carried on his school of thought; rather he is a living person who saves people for living his life now.

Have you wondered about how Christians celebrate Easter, saying, "He is risen!", but then can not talk to people about their beliefs or other topics like politics or sex?

This is how I think we fumble the ball:  In our western culture we emphasize doctrine (Orthodoxy) over practice (Orthopraxy).  So, we have minted Christians who know big with their heads, but are small in their hearts.  

I was going to say that we know a lot, but do a little.  That is true, but many people do a lot, but still have cold hearts.  A real Christian is a person who has Christ living in them and knows him.  A real Christian  loves and does good out of love.

We have mistakenly gone down the path of saying, teaching and believing that a Christian is a person who simply believes certain things.  Then, we have Christians who can not stand to be around other Christians who believe different things than them.  We tolerate them.  We have idolized belief or knowledge over love, which has resulted in an ineffective force and our being a laughing stock to unbelievers.

The message of Easter is: resurrection life now, not someday.

If the message was, 'He rose and you will arise', which is like an effort to comfort mourners at a funeral; that is the wrong message, an incomplete message.  

The message is, "He rose so you can live now".

I noticed how we can not talk about some things.  Those things are things like how we believe differently or vote differently, raise our kids differently or view sex and marriage differently.

Why can't we talk about these 'hot topics'?  Why do we hurt each other in the way we talk about topics we see or believe differently?  And why do we "not want to hear" differing opinions?

I would say that love is the key.  We lack love.  We emphasize knowledge over love.

Love listens and accepts people we disagree with.  Having the need to get your point across or set someone straight is not love.

Colossians 3:14 is the verse that came to my mind about this:
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
The context is a passage from Paul about Orthopraxy, living the Christian life:

If then you have been raised with Christ,
Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:
sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Do not lie to one another,
seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self,
which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts,
kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
bearing with one another
and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
-Colossians 3:1-14

My theory is that we can not talk to each other, because we don't (want to) listen.  And we don't (want to) listen, because we don't love.

We do not mean to not love, but our over emphasis of doctrine, ends up being an under emphasis on love.

If we pursue good doctrine to the detriment of love, what do we become?  If your parents did not love us as fully as God designed parents to love their children and rather than seeking and knowing God's love, you seek sound, pure and correct doctrine.  Then what have you become?

Love is the mark of the Christian.  And loving people listen to and accept people they do not agree with.

Being a Christian is more about how you live and how you love, than what you believe.  We have had a strange overemphasis of beliefs and an under emphasis of love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Jesus said that we would be known by our love for one another.

The indictment against a failed Christianity in our western culture is that when we gather with our families or friends who have a different faith, different doctrine or beliefs than ours, that we either can not talk about it, or if we do, it is an unpleasant fight that might even be nasty.

There is a saying that, 'the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, but expecting different results'.

Love is about listening to and accepting others who are different than whom you disagree with.  The message to take from Easter and into the forty days before the resurrection is that Jesus rose from the dead to give us life to live now.

The message of Easter is: resurrection life now, not someday.

Easter Reflections

When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him.  Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
-Luke 22:14-15

What Easter means to me is that God has a plan.  God acted and carried out that plan.  

We were continually surprised by what God did.  Jesus interacted with the people as he carried out the plan.

The plan was not a script or a 'to do list', with check boxes.  The plan unfolded, for Jesus and for the people around him.

Jesus did everything he did, as a man; without the attributes, power or privileges of God; while maintaining his identity as Son of God.  He did this, so that He could save humanity completely, through and through; inside out.

Jesus had told and warned the apostles that he was going to suffer and be put to death, and rise on the third day.  But when we read the stories, it seems like they might not have understood.

Knowing where he was going, that he was about to suffer, Jesus wanted to have the last supper with his apostles.  He said, "I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer".

Some of the more literal translations say, "with desire, I have desired to eat".  Jesus desire to have this last meal with them was serious, sincere and intense.  Jesus was an intense person, a serious person and a sincere person.

His whole life was about passion for the Father.  We have John 3:16.  But that love is fully reciprocal.

Why did Jesus come?  To save mankind.  To destroy the works of the devil.  To reveal the Father.

If you have to boil it down to one word, the reason Jesus came was love.  God's love saves us, sets us free and reveals himself.

The key to the whole Bible is Jesus suffering on the cross.  His sacrificial love there defines everything else.  If you have a question, that is the lense to look through for the answer.

One of the richest sections of scripture about living as a person of Jesus, is the account by John of what Jesus said that night, at the last supper.

John opens with the scene of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, before they partook of the meal together.  The key lesson that Jesus gives them is servanthood through love or love through servanthood.

And love is the theme that is woven through everything he says to them that night.

Jesus is frank about Judas, as being a betrayer, while not outing him or confronting him openly.  Jesus is not chiding him nor resigned to his actions from a dark heart; but makes it clear that someone in that room, who has been at his side, now and over these past years, has chosen darkness over light.

Jesus washed Judas feet and shared the meal, including the elements of the bread and the wine.  We can draw a lesson here that we can be touched on the outside and even take communion into our insides and still align ourselves against Jesus.  In other words, having a level of familiarity with Jesus and doing religious things does not save you.

This seems obvious if you are saved and love Jesus.  But it needs to be stated for the ones who are delusional.  You must let Jesus change you, cleanse you and have intimacy with you in your deepest insides.

Jesus did not ask Judas to excuse himself before the supper, but called him out, but not by name, after communion.  The communion table or the Lord's Supper, whether it is a full meal, like how Jesus and the apostles did it, or the abbreviated style that many Christians practice today, is totally open.  The table is open to Christians, pre-Christians who don't know anything and to fake Christians, who, like Judas, are delusional and deceived.

Communion does not save you, but is a celebration of what saves us.  Jesus understands that people like Judas, come to the table and partake.  But that does not change anything, because change is an inside thing.

Everything Judas did in his life was a choice.  He was not elected or predestined to fail, but chose his path.

Do you know what Jesus said to Judas, in the garden, when he came to betray him with a kiss?  Jesus called him 'friend'.  Jesus continued to love Judas.  Jesus did not react and define how he felt about Judas by the betrayal, but by his choice to love a deceived, delusional, reprehensible man; who was still a friend, as defined by Jesus.

Compare how Jesus treated Judas to how we treat fallen leaders who get caught up in less egregious sins.

Is the Gospel strong enough to save someone like Judas?  Yes.

My reflection about Easter is that God has always had a plan and that was the case with Jesus coming into the world and finally being executed on the cross, dying and rising from the dead.

Jesus mentioned the cross many times before Holy Week.  It was a familiar motif to his first listeners.  Even though Satan could hear what Jesus said, he still went forward with his own plan to have Jesus executed in the most painful way ever devised on earth.

God had a plan and went forward with the plan and even though the Devil had plans, God's plan went forward and trumped the plan of the Devil.

Every one of the disciples denied Jesus.  Peter just got the spotlight.

John and three women watched the crucifixion, close up; but the rest of the apostles ran away and hid.  Jesus still loved and believed in the ones who hid and denied him.

The lesson might be that those who take a risk, for love and in faith, receive a blessing.  The ones who stayed away were loved the same, but missed out on something because of their fears.

And it is the same with us.  Life continually presents opportunities for us to take a risk, act in love, serve somebody and go against our fears.  We get to choose.  The light is green and a blessing awaits us if we will act, but we are still loved if we are passive, afraid or selfish.

The first witness of Jesus resurrection was Mary Magdalene.  Despite the 'male only' club of the 12 Apostles, Mary was a disciple and had her own deep love for Jesus, that also contained faith that had courageous curiosity.

Mary was the first person that Jesus commissioned to speak on his behalf.  And Jesus sent her to testify, to the men and share the word of God to them.  Jesus is countermanding the rules of men that do not permit a woman to give testimony and do not permit a woman to share the word of God, with men.

Backing up, to the Via Dolorosa, have you thought about Simon of Cyrene?  Imagine he is you.  What was his experience and how does it apply to us?

He was curious.  Curiosity is completely neutral.  He was just in the crowd.

You and I are in the crowd or we have been in the crowd in life.  Suddenly and without warning you are chosen for something that is in the spotlight and might be embarrassing.  What is hard to wrap your mind around is that a person called you and pretty much made you do this and it is embarrassing, but that unsavory task is really for Jesus.

This thing you have been called to do is not what you signed up for, not what you had in mind and it is embarrassing.  You are annoyed, saying, "Why is this happening to me?", and you feel really not ready, not trained and not prepared for this.  This is not at all what you planned on!

Remember that the theme I am considering is plans, God's plan and our plans intersecting with all of the detours and unforseen circumstances of life.  There are unplanned pregnancies, sudden job loss from firing or layoffs, unexpected losses of people or things, accidents, natural disasters, theft and many other things that ruin your otherwise happy life.

A large percentage of people who are in love and get married end up divorced.  Bad things happen in their lives.  Many small decisions are made that result in separation and estrangement from a person who was once the person you loved the most in the whole world.

Was that God's plan?  No.  Is God with you when your plans are spoiled?  Yes.

Simon of Cyrene's experience is an 'in your face' illustration of someone's plans going awry and them facing an assignment that they never wanted that confuses them and embarasses them.

No other human being but this Simon has had the opportunity to help Jesus, in this way, at that time when Jesus was in agony and suffering.

Simon helping Jesus, against his will, is a picture of authentic ministry.  It is not prestigious, lucrative, performed to applause, nor clean.  It is dirty, bloody, embarrassing and filled with misunderstanding.

Authentic ministry is to and for Jesus and it is done today in the most dirty places that are unprestigious, not on stages, with blood, dirt and tears and very embarrassing to our pride and selfishness.

The highest call that we are all called to but few of us answer that call, is the call to be a slave to Jesus, child of God and friend of God.  I would imagine that people argue about these three, about which one is the top.

I would say that since Mary cared so much about Jesus and went to the tomb, that Jesus saw her as his friend: Lord and Savior and friend.  I'm not sure if being his slave is a higher calling that we are all called to or if it is a three fold calling of child, slave and friend.

This is our identity.  Many people want to be famous and there is nothing wrong with that and Christians should be the famous ones.  But what are you famous for and did you get famous through him and his love or some other way and was that other way selfish and hurtful to other people?

Have you found out who you are in the Bible?  I mean which Bible characters do you identify with or which ones has God given you a calling similar to?

There is no one in the Bible who desired fame or wealth who ended well.  There is no leader in the Bible who had the need to be in charge so much that he pushed others out of the way and was controlling, who ended well.  And there is no one in the Bible who talked but did not listen who ended well.

Easter is about God's plan colliding with our plans and the Devil's plans, and with God winning.  We either get to oppose God or die with God.  We either get to be monumentally frustrated and become jaded, cynical, carnal and at a loss of faith; or we can die and experience God's new life for us.

What if being born again is not an event, but a process?  What if being born again means to follow God's call and the life of God in us, to start over in every area of our lives?  What if being born again means to begin a new life that is continually renewed and starting over with God's life in my life?

What if what God has always been after with believers is changed hearts, but we have continually resisted changing our hearts and have sought to please God and others through actions without inward change and the dying with Christ, which is the only path that leads to his resurrection life, which is the Christian life?

God's plan has always been to bring his plan or his life out of your inward life, through your death and his resurrection.  We were never meant to just believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but to also live in his resurrection life, in our lives.

The plan of God 
That will prevail 
Despite any other plans 
That will take us 
In all sorts of directions 
Is his plan 
To take us 
Through the cross 
For cleansing 
And death
Then give us 
Resurrection life 
In Christ
To be 
Real Christians 
And live 
His life 
In our lives


For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing.

He believed, hoping against hope, so that he became the father of many nations according to what had been spoken: So will your descendants be.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance,  endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.  
This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put aside childish things.
For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.
Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.
Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
-Acts 27:20, Romans 4:18, 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 13:11-13

I was thinking about hope.  We have hope.  Hope in God and hope in Christ.  And the Spirit of God is a hopeful person.

In Paul's sea adventure story, he recalls a point where, 'all hope was lost'.  Hope was disappearing.  Chances of surviving were running out.  But the end of the story was that everybody survived.

Another story about hope is told in Romans, about Abraham.  He kept waiting for his promise to manifest.  He hoped for it, even when hope was running out.

In the next chapter of Romans, we learn that we become hopeful people through enduring suffering.  The Christian life is about becoming like Christ, as we suffer, learn to love and live from God's provision.

In 1 Corinthians, there is this idea that hope, along with faith and love, will go on; after the second coming.  Out of everything in the Christian life that we get to participate in on earth now, we get to continue experiencing faith, hope, and love.  There will not need to be any more prophecies, because we will be living in fulfillment.

Hope is a continuous, ongoing experience in our lives.  We hope and hope sometimes seems like it is running out and hopes are often fulfilled.  Hope that goes on a long time, without being fulfilled, can give us serious heartache.  

We need to be on-guard to not get bitter.  Disappointment always is the time of 'His appointment'.  We must learn to lament our disappointments and grieve or losses.

Hopes die and losses happen.  But God always has new hope for us.  God has a 'plan b' when things do not work out.

New hope is renewed hope in God.  God is the God of death and resurrection.  Don't be afraid of failure or a hopeless situation, because God resurrects dead things and brings new life where there has been death.

And the Spirit of God is the wisest and most optimistic person in your life, as well as Jesus number one supporter.

Hopeless means God has something for you, a gift or a compensation that is hidden in your trial.  Hopeless means that God has a 'plan b' or a resurrection of dead things.  Hopeless means the gift of having special fellowship with Jesus that you might have missed out on, if you had unlimited success.

If you are hopeless, God has something in store for you.  Let hope be refurbished in your heart and out into your life through the grace of God.  Be hopeful again

Christian Living Begins With Surrender

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
-Romans 12:1 (NIV)

When God changed my life, a word that came to my mind, over and over, was, "Surrender".  I discovered that God wanted me, all of me.  Even though I knew God and was a Christian; God was calling me to enter into a surrendered life.  I began to experience living a surrendered life to God.

In the evangelical culture I am familiar with, one thing we do is play worship music in our cars or in our homes, or walk through the bustling city streets, with earbuds on, listening to our favorite worship music and letting it stir our souls.

Nothing is wrong with that.  But that is not what Romans 12:1 is talking about.

God wants our lives.  God wants our whole lives, lock stock and barrel, given over to Him.  Jesus' message was that to follow him, we must give up everything, or it will not work.

Romans 12 is the beginning of the section of Romans on Christian living. We call this 'orthopraxy'. The beginning section of Romans is about true and correct (right) doctrine, and we call that 'orthodoxy'. And the center section of Romans is about the heart: true or correct heart or affections, and we call that 'orthopathy' or 'orthokardia'.

We need to know what the previous eleven chapters covered in order to understand what the 'therefore' in verse one of Romans twelve is there for. The 'therefore' is saying, "In the light of the teachings on doctrine and affections, this is how you should then live".

And the first thing that Paul says, is to live a life of worship. 

 Knowing the truth puts our hearts in awe and wonder, then leads us to love God and love others. Having come to that place, then how do we begin to live? Worship is how.  

A surrendered life of sacrifice to God: living for God and serving God in my whole life.

Worship is not an event, time or place; but a lifestyle. Without a worship lifestyle, the right knowledge and touched heart will not lead to a godly life; but will devolve into a carnal, selfish life. A lifestyle of worship is not optional, but is essential.

When we do gather with other Christians, to worship and praise God together, we a coming from surrendered lives of sacrifice; where we have been living in worship and a lifestyle.

The Old Covenant call of, "Come let us go up to the temple of the Lord and worship our God", has passed away.  In the New Covenant, you and I are the temple of God; and we worship God by giving him our bodies, our lives and all our living throughout each week.

The 'christian' who opts out, does not get it, or bypasses worship as a lifestyle will not live the life as it is intended to be lived, and will miss out, suffer and be something like a bird who never flies, but walks through life, occasionally flapping its wings and getting a few feet off the ground, like a turkey.

Romans 12 could be titled 'Christian Living', and the beginning or foundation of Christian living is giving everything to God. Specifically and foundationally, this is done with our bodies. From our bodies we live our lives and so we must first give our bodies completely to God, so that we can participate with God in living the life God has for us to live, through our living bodies.

The Christian life begins with offering our bodies to God as living sacrifices. Everything that our bodies need, want and desire: all of our body's functions are first given to God. This is what a Christian is.

The Passion Translation has Romans 12:1 this way:
Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God's marvelous mercies?  I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices.  And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart.  For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.
The Message has Romans 12:1 like this:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
Surrender.  Freedom, joy and fulfillment come from surrendering to God. 

Influence and Mentoring

"We want to be mentored."
-Millennial Generation

After hosting and then saying goodbye to a young person, who had spent the afternoon with us; I was struck with this idea of influence.  We influence everyone we come into contact with,  We also influence people unknowingly.

And how we treat people is more important than what we teach.  How we teach is more important than what we teach.  This is a very hard word for teachers to hear who have excellence as their goal.

Think about Jesus as a teacher.  He is the best person and best teacher.

He could teach the Law or The Torah pedantically.  He could preach in the streets.  And he could accommodate himself to the liturgical customs of the local synagogues and bring a message from the scrolls there.

But he also taught in many other ways, like parables and stories.  He also mixed doing with teaching, as in doing healings, deliverances and miracles.  He also taught through questioning his listeners.

Why would the way we teach, train, model, mentor or disciple people not be the way that Jesus did it?  We have done it our way and wondered why it has not worked very well.  Jesus needs to be Savior, Lord and King of how we live, influence and teach.

The younger generations need mentoring.  They need Jesus style mentoring.  Something has been missing.

Mentoring is different than the way we have been teaching.

The younger generations have been taught, preached at, lectured, admonished, rebuked, encouraged and entertained.  But, their leaders, their teachers, their elders and their parents have failed to influence them the way that Jesus did with his disciples.

What do I mean or or how has this happened?

We have neglected taking up Jesus' style and ways.  Influence through mentoring has become a lost art for many Christians.

We have been failing to disciple people.  Why?  Because, in a nut-shell, we say to our learners, "Do as I say and not as I do".  This does not work well and is called hypocrisy.  This is the charge that Jesus leveled at the elite teachers.

This is a profound insight about influence.  People will do what you do more than believe what you say.

The Christian life is more about being and doing than educational knowledge.

I have probably had hundreds of teachers, from kindergarten through the present.  The handful that I remember, loved me in some fashion:  They came into my personal space or invited me into theirs and expressed genuine caring.

The fruit of the Spirit is more important than knowledge or the gifts of the Spirit.

Mentoring is when you live with someone.  Many of us are not able to take on a mentorship where we live with someone to learn life from them.

Mentoring means living together, sharing life: teaching and learning how to live, do and be; close up.

Mentoring involves caring and sharing, living and being together.  Mentoring involves more listening and less talking:  Hearing stories and sharing stories.

Lots of patience.  
Walking beside a person.  
Helping the other person discover who God made them to be and what the dreams are that God has put in their hearts.

Mentoring involves working together, playing together and a lot of eating together:  Walking together and  praying together with a lot of questions.  And good mentors are able to say, "I don't know, but I will walk with you".

Influence is something that we do, whether we like it or not.  Influence is a responsibility for which we are accountable for.  Many methods of influence do not work well in that they do not touch the heart and form a life towards God.

Mentoring is what is missing.  Jesus mentored his learners but many learners are not mentored by us.  Instead, we keep using methods that do not make people have lives for God.

A simple definition of mentoring is guiding people, in their lives, from beside them.

Come Dancing

My love calls to me:

Arise, my darling.
Come away, my beautiful one.
For now the winter is past;
the rain has ended and gone away.
The blossoms appear in the countryside.
The time of singing has come,
and the turtledove’s cooing is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs;
the blossoming vines give off their fragrance.
Arise, my darling.
Come away, my beautiful one.
-Song of Songs 2:10-13

Come dancing.  Have you heard God say that?

What would that mean?  I think that when we dance, we have stopped being passive and instead activated.  Dancing is moving.

When I am moving, I can be guided or 'course corrected'.  The motion of dancing gives me the ability to be guided.  'Come dancing' is similar to, 'let's take a walk", 'get up and go', 'now, run'.

If someone invites you to dance, they are asking you to join the dance, with them or with others.  The invitation implies the plurality of dancing.  People dance solo or privately all the time, but that is not what this is about.

In God's story, shared in the Bible, His people are His wife and His bride.  God has always been like a husband who loves and shares with his bride.  This includes going away with God and letting God love us.

God would naturally say to us, 'let me share with you', 'let us eat together', and 'come dance with me'.

The life that God has always wanted for His people is a close relationship, like in the old hymn, "He lives", where it has the words, "He walks with me and talks with me".  Our God is a relational person who walks with us and talks with us.

That is the backdrop of God saying, "Come dancing".  And "Come dancing" is different than "Let's dance".  God is perhaps saying that there is a dance already in progress,  and He is inviting us to join in.

Did you know that the Bible views dancing as wholesome and is commended?

Did you know that God invented dancing?  Dancing is actually a godly thing to do.

You may not be a natural dancer.  One of the most awkward things I ever did was take part in an audition for West Side Story.  I soon discovered that this was not my thing.  

I remember a very popular Christian teacher, who opined about dancing  He said that since it would be awkward to lead someone to Christ, while dancing, we should not dance.  But he was giving an opinion about youth dancing to secular music: it it ok or not ok?  "Not ok", he said.

From just listening to this one man, I never knew that there was legitimate, wholesome God-endorsed dancing, in the Bible.  Later, I did discover dancing in the Bible, and I thought that while we read of Jewish people dancing, from time to time, that it must just be cultural; because I never saw dancing in church or in any Christian context.

Dancing in the Bible is not liturgical.  Liturgy is the high church word that means 'service', and that is where we get the descriptive title for formal church gatherings called 'church services'.  We say, "Are you holding services?", to people starting a new church; and the idea is commonly held that 'church' means 'services' at a 'building', with people.  So, people + building + service = church, is what is commonly held to be the definition of 'church'.  Only one third of that equation is correct or New Testament.

The NT teaches that the people are the church and the the gathering of the church is not about buildings, small or large, nor is it about service or liturgy.  The gathering is about people gathering in Jesus name, for Jesus mission and cause, in his love that we express towards other followers of Jesus, who have also left everything behind for him, to invite people who do not know him to also follow him.

On the other hand, churches, like synagogues, do have liturgies; 'things we do when we gather'.

Liturgy equals 'what we do'.  "What's your liturgy, man?"

An easy example of liturgy or what we say makes a (real) church service, is singing.  It is hard to recall a church meeting without singing.

Many people, by far the majority in my experience, equate church with singing.  We also equate 'church' as being something we go to.  But the NT teaches that the church is something we are.

Today, many people think that church is something you go to, to sing.

But, singing is neither what defines or makes a church.  Singing is a liturgical thing we like to do.  And it feels good too.

Same thing with sanctified dancing.  But some Christians who love to sing, don't see dancing as appropriate.  Yet, they are both things people like to do to both celebrate and worship.

If church is not a building or services, then what is church?  Church is intimate fellowship with Jesus and each other, around Jesus.  The communion with Him and his people involves sharing.  Sharing stories, sharing food, sharing life and sharing our stuff and money.

Church life may include dancing, but it is not part of the liturgy or service, because the duty, liturgy or service of the church that marks or defines the church is loving one another from Jesus love.

The only liturgy or service direction that we were given is to love one another and serve one another and to go out and tell others about Jesus.

Dancing has a place in church life, when if is spontaneous or celebratory.  The people danced in Jesus story of the two sons and their father, in Luke chapter 15.
And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
-Luke 15:23-5
If Jesus had dancing in a story he made up, that was an expression of celebration and spontaneous jubilation; we can take that as an example of when dancing is a good thing.

In Bible times and today, there has been pagan, cultic and erotic dancing that is not the kind of dancing that believers take part in.  When we suggest that believers can dance in life, or in church, some of us are chagrined, because we think of dancing as worldly.  But the job of the god of the world has always been to corrupt and twist what started off as wholesome.  And redemption means to take those back and put them back to their original function.

Have you ever thought about angels and dancing?  In the same chapter in Luke where Jesus includes the scene of the people dancing, he also says that when sinners repent, that angels experience joy in God's presence.  The thread, in Luke 15, that ties the reality of angels experiencing joy, with Jesus story of the returned prodigal, is the joy in heaven and celebration on earth.

“What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.
“Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”
-Luke 15:4-10

Jesus has music and dancing in his story.  Many Christians are uncomfortable with dancing and especially dancing in church.  Why would people dance in church, they ask.  The answer is Luke 15 and the admonitions to dance in worship in the OT:
Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre.
Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings.
-Psalm 149:3, 150:4
 Music with instruments and dancing, for worship, praise and celebration is from the Bible.  Anyone who would say that instrumental music or dance do not belong in the church, has either not read Luke 15, or they do not see Father God and his family there, of which every church is a part of today.  

In the Bible, there is wholesome dancing, that is commendable.  Dancing is also a metaphor.

If God is saying, "Come dancing", to you; He might be saying, "Let's go live".  When we dance, we draw attention to ourselves, because of all the movements.  God might be saying, "Get up and shine", like the word in Isaiah.

When you come out to dance, you may be dancing before God, with God or with others.  There is a 'self-esteem' lift to dancing, because you are out there and visible and vulnerable.  Others might laugh at you or commend you as you dance.  And when we dance, most of us must let go of our pride, because dancing is humbling.

Dancing, in its putting us out there, in humility, makes us recipients of grace.

There has been a time to sit and watch life go by.  But now is the time to get up and dance.

The voice of the bridegroom summoning you to come, is what empowers you to arise and go.

Jesus never planned to have us live passive lives.  Jesus never planned to have us be a holy people who are enclaved from the world.  And He never intended for us to be experts but not practitioners.

Hear God say, "Come dancing".